The Song Remains the Same

Recently I gave Mass Effect another go.  This time making quick work of the Turian’s Asari clones – having mastered the rock, paper, scissors of physical/tech/biotics. And while the voice acting is impressive… there is so. Much. Talking.

I guess my main criticism of Bioware is they have been remaking the same game since 2003. My initial exposure to Bioware games was Neverwinter Nights. Before the first expansion pack, they had the element of exploring your companion’s past to uncover additional plot. However, the game only advanced gear by incremental improvement of the bonus (+2 replacing +1, etc) and while we’re not talking free range cosmic betrayal, there is some significant similarities.

The first expansion introduced the alignment system and how your decisions could, holy shit, have consequences. Additionally, they added depth to the magical weapons.

Bioware’s relationship with their community has always been impressive. They actually listened to their modding community and implemented a lot of the functions and procedures necessary for the hackish work around to develop “Persistent worlds”
The voice acting is impressive, but most people can read 4x faster than people can talk. So whereas on a console a conversation would consist of “1,1,2,2,4” and out, now you have to sit there for 5 minutes wading through the dialog.

The second complaint is about the forced morality. Like Neverwinter, like KOTOR, you’re either rich and evil or poor and good, but not really. Attention developers: Life isn’t fair. The game has taken this to a new level by putting in “tough decisions. ” A manager of a mining colony is putting the company ahead of the citizens, and I shot him. Maybe if I had enough points in Intimidate or Persuade it could have ended differently, but I was playing a game where I wasn’t the only one who had consequences for my actions. A guy wanted his wife’s body released for burial, but her wounds we’re being studied by the military. Yawn. I’m only on the shore of Lake Genophage or at the base camp of Mt. Xenophobia, but neither are really scratching the SciFi as social commentary itch that everybody thinks is so easy to scratch.

The third issue, why doesn’t Sauron, do a little opposition prep, look in the rear view, and rain devastation down upon the competition? Two minutes with a high powered laser rifle, and it’d all be over. Conflict relies upon balance, and I’m not sure where that is, between the mind controlling dreadnought and the machine army. Maybe I’m missing something (not good in its own right) but the lack of explanation as to why I don’t immediately see “game over” makes me feel like the game lacks complexity.

Posted in Games
3 comments on “The Song Remains the Same
  1. angryscholar says:

    Saren’s plan depends on secrecy. The Geth, powerful as they are, can’t attack the Citadel directly; the Citadel fleet would crush them. The whole point is that they have to find a way to surprise the Council. That’s why it’s so important to Saren that nobody believe Shepard’s story of what happened on Eden Prime. He couldn’t simply wipe out Shepard and the Alliance immediately, no matter what. If he could he would have just nuked Eden Prime and every other human world in the Terminus.

    I’m sorry you don’t find the social issues compelling. I thought the game handled them very well. The Genophage is really more central in ME2, so maybe my overall perspective is colored by that game, but I still thought it was a brilliant way of addressing issues like racism and genetic engineering and all that other stuff.

    I’m also not entirely convinced by this forced morality stuff. There can only be so many dialogue options coded into the game, and I think it makes sense for there to be “extreme” options at both ends of the Paragon/Renegade continuum. It’s an interactive story, not a sandbox, so there have to be constraints on the number of dialogue options. The idea that you have to gain “experience” at being an asshole is perhaps far-fetched (you can’t shoot that guy unless you’ve first insulted someone else’s parentage), but it is, after all, a video game, and if you could do everything cool right away there wouldn’t be sufficient challenge to make it interesting. I’m willing to sacrifice some realism in the name of better gameplay.

    I hope you’ll like ME2 better, but similar issues remain. There are typically three dialogue options (Paragon, neutral, and Renegade), with blue/red options opening up if you get your P/R score high enough. There are also dialogue “interrupts”, where you can choose to perform a -very- Paragon or very Renegade action in the middle of another character’s line (for instance, shooting someone in the face as they’re telling you their nefarious plans). But the choices, again, come down to good, bad, or fair-to-middlin’. In my opinion it only adds to the story, without any caveats. In Final Fantasy VII you had no choices whatsoever, and nobody complained that Cloud let Sephiroth kill Aeris (some people cheered). I consider any amount of choice an improvement over single linear storylines.

    • vigorousbog says:

      The Geth are machines, right? What’s the rush? And they get smarter as the aggregate? It just doesn’t seem like a logical, optimal strategy. I feel like their toying with the ideas of sentience and AI and all that, based on the rogue AI quests on the Citadel. But I feel a gap between the Quarrian’s making the Geth, the discovery of Geth sentience and the symbiotic Saren/Geth warmachine. Maybe I’m not far enough into the game to truly understand Saren’s motivations.

      True, Shepard is in a cloaked ship, which would make the elimination plan a little tougher. But as you traipse around the galaxies, if you happened to get shot, would the Alliance go to war? So why doesn’t Saren just arrange a little accident? Hell, as Shepard you’re actively chasing him.

      I guess the problem I have is one of understanding motivation in what appears to me to be a society that has made it to “post scarcity” The relationship of Tali with the home fleet, Wrex trying to reconcile being a Krogan with the survival of his race, and Alenko‘s insider view of the early days of human development of biotics are all compelling storylines. The Turians and Asari, I have yet to find any reason to find them compelling aside from some sort of “old guard” as a counterpoint for the stereotypical “upstart” humans. The humans, offer some value as a fresh pair of eyes on the cosmic scene – revealing the second class status of the Volus, etc. but not much else. The whole Prothian-those-who’ve-gone-before is a bit played out.

      I respect the limitations of the game, but I can’t say I care for the conversation mechanic in general. Persuasion/Intimidation as trainable skills? What you’re saying makes a lot of sense from a programming standpoint, only so many conversational flags and what have you, and I understand how frustrating it would be to threaten someone and fail, it would kind of force your hand plot-wise. But ultimately, I feel a little more nuance to the conversation instead of layered dumps of information would make the game go a little better. Either more background information in reading form (let me loan you my copy of “The Genophage and You”?) or more background conversation between your characters as you adventure maybe? I dunno. The freeze in the action so Shepard can talk about the Bene Gesserit sisterhood’s political structure, while adding realism, robs you of the sense of urgency to save the universe from Saren.

      To be fair, I think I’m just not having fun as a soldier, but I’m far enough into the game that restarting would be a bit of a pain. I pretty much decimate everything with a pistol, so I pretty much don’t take advantage of any of the soldier’s advantages, other than advanced healing. To power through, I just went with a stock character, propped myself up with an autolevelling crutch, and it makes combat more of a chore. Probably the best thing for me is retreat to go forward, and start again with something more tech/biotic oriented. [Shrug] for the most part I am enjoying it, and don’t regret buying it

      The game’s races and the overall feel remind me a lot of Escape Velocity (especially the Nova incarnation) I’m not sure who the Polaris are and who the Vell-os are, but you get the idea.

      It’s been a really long day, so that’s all I got.

      • angryscholar says:

        I think I get what you’re saying. I think a great many of your questions will be addressed when you figure out what’s really going on with Saren and the Geth. There’s a limiting factor in play that I can’t tell you about without ruining it.

        ME2 addresses some of your concerns and is generally much more fun to play. I think you’ll like it better.

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